I Belong to the “Out of Office” Tribe

I gave up my office four years ago and haven’t looked back. Like many others in our “good to great” society I toiled to accumulate the status trophies of success, one being the bigger better office. And applying myself, I rose through the ranks. My first office as a student pastor was a shared space in the men’s baptistery room. It smelled of chlorine and wet towels. I later joked, my first office had a whirlpool! A few moves later and I made it to the big leagues — a large office, leather sofa, private entrance, attached conference room, and a gate keeping assistant. Score!

Yet unknowingly at the time, I had actually walled myself off from the very community I self described as trying to engage. The walls of the church building and my secure office space had become barriers to the mission. Winston Churchill once famously said, “We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us.”

Today I’m blogging from a public office space as I do most everyday. Panera is my office today. Perhaps Starbucks tomorrow. Mi Cocina at lunch yesterday for a strategy session with a colleague. I conducted a conference meeting last week with four others at Market Street Grocery. And in all of these “third places” I have comfortable furniture, great coffee, free wifi, hipster music, and get this, IT’S ALL FOR FREE (with the exception of the java and guacamole)!

And as good as all of that is — this is the real takeaway for me. IT PLACES ME IN THE COMMUNITY THAT I AM TRYING TO ENGAGE!

Sociologist Ray Oldenberg first pioneered and wrote abut this “third place” concept in his 1989 book The Great Good Place, in which he explains that your “third place” is a hangout spot, community center or “home away from home” that provides an essential zone outside of home and work.

He writes, “In its design, vibe, clientele, and intellectual environment, a third place is a welcoming space that cultivates essential social experiences in the company of like-minded people. A third place is set up to be an inviting hangout spot. Coffee shops have couches and tables. Pubs offer stools at the bar and booths where you can sit comfortably with friends. It never feels like a chore to spend time there.”

So if I were king for a day you ask, what would I do? I’d clear out the church buildings and especially the walled up offices. I’d lovingly but persistently re-tool pastors and parishioners showing them the “third place” practices of Jesus. He had no office. He had no church building. His miracles were done in public spaces, city streets, and wedding celebrations. His greatest sermon spoken on an outside hillside.

The sun shines brightly today in my third place. I’m glad I belong to the out of office tribe. Might you join me?

Loving Community,

Jim

John 1:14

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